Middle English Word of the Moment

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A study of Cleopatra D IX: MSS III, IIIa, ff. 84-88, 89. Fineshade collection.

A collection of letters and a chronicle relating to the civil wars of 1321-22, from the priory of Fineshade, with a related proclamation from 1325 attached.


III: Parchment, 5 ff. Single column of 40 lines. Two letters and a petition transcribed, followed by a short chronicle and some notes. In two hands, one predominant, with occasional corrections suggestive of composition rather than copying in the chronicle and no similar errors in the previous documents. A, the primary scribe, uses a rounded and rather irregular Anglicana, with heavy downstrokes that can tend toward the blotchy, irregular minims, and a rather awkward serpentine ‘s’ whose lower bowl sits noticeably below the line. B, who writes less than half a page on 87v before A resumes on 88r, uses a contemporary Anglicana that is smaller and more regular, with consistently angled curves and controlled decorative flourishes on his maiuscules. Miniscule ‘a’ is typical of the differences between the two hands: A’s lower bowl varies in size relative to the x-height, to the extent that the eye is sometimes broad and sometimes almost non-existent, while the upper bowl is left open as the pen-stroke trails off. B’s ‘a’ has a lower bowl that is usually consistent with the x-height, while the upper bowl is firmly closed with a broad stroke. Some pages also have contemporary marginal notes, in a hand that appears to belong to A, though smaller and in a lighter ink.

IIIa: An official proclamation of the judgement against the traitors at Boroughbridge, issued 1322 or 1325, on a smaller sheet of vellum, approx. 250x150 mm (Haskins, “Proceedings” 511). Added later, according to Sayles, which accords with Ker’s assessment that only ff. 84-88 originate from Fineshade (Ker, Libraries 87). The text of the judgement is written lengthwise on the page, in a clear, contemporary hand. Two titles have been added at a later date, one “at least as late as the middle of the fourteenth century”, the second modern (Haskins, “Proceedings” 510-11). The first is partly obscured by a torn corner of the parchment (the bottom right?), and reads “COMENT LE CUNTE DE LANCASTRE FU ACOUPE DEVANT …[?la bataille de Pount de Burgh et jugee a] LA MOR[?t...]”. The second is smaller, inserted between the first and the text, and reads (more accurately) “Judicium in Barones captos apud Burgh Bridge” (qtd. in Haskins, “Proceedings” 511).



- 84v: A copy of the king's letters of prohibition issued to Engayne and others forbidding attendance at a meeting at Doncaster, November 1321. Chronologically, follows the previous entry. Latin, ½ p.

- 84v-85r: A letter of summons from Lancaster to John Engayne, urging him to attend a meeting at Doncaster on 29 November, 1321. Anglo-Norman, 1 p. Incipit:

A honurable homme et nostre trescher amy, Monsure Johan Dengayne, Thomas, / Counte de Lancastre et de Leycestre [etc], saluz / e cheres amitez. Sire, pur les granz periles et oppressions et grantz maux, qe nous / sentoms et entendoms... (qtd. in Haskins, “Petition” 483; in all quotes from Haskin’s editions, it must be assumed that he has regularised punctuation and spelling.)

- 85r-86r: A petition drawn up by Lancaster’s adherents for the forbidden meeting at Doncaster. It may have been composed at the meeting or in preparation for it, as there is no evidence that it ever took place (Haskins, “Petition” 479). Anglo-Norman, 1 p. Incipit:

A touz honours e reuerences, &c. Sire, pleysea a vostre seynurie sauer come plusurs e de-/-uerse greuaunces qui sont monstrez a nous e a nos autres bon piers de la tere... (qtd. in Haskins, “Petition” 483).

- 86r-88r: A short chronicle of the civil wars of Edward II, focussed primarily on the battles in Yorkshire in 1321-22. The final eight lines on 87v and all of 88r comprise a roll of the dead, executed, imprisoned and exiled after Lancaster’s final defeat at Boroughbridge. Haskins notes that this list apparently has a common source with a similar roll in MS Egerton 2850: each omits some names contained in the other, and the ordering of the names suggests that the original was in two columns, which one copyist read from left to right while the other read down (Haskins, “Chronicle” 74). Latin, 3 ff. Incipit:

Anno dominice incarnacionis .M°.CC°. octogesimo quintodecimo et regni regis Edwardi / .xx°ij°. et etate Edwardi filii predicti regis Edwardi quartodecimo. Cum idem rex transfre- / -tasset in Flandriam causa pacis inter regem Francie et comitem Flandrie, vt dice- / -batur, reformande... (qtd. in Haskins, “Chronicle” 75).

- 88v: A list of other historical notes which Haskins labels “various entries of no interest” Haskins, “Chronicle” 73). Presumably they were of some interest to the chronicler, but we are left to speculate as to their content. Latin, 1 p.

- 89: An official issue of the judgement against the rebels of Boroughbridge. Names Lancaster and Hereford personally, leaving the remainder general. Anglo-Norman, 1 f. Incipit:

Pur ceo que vous .j. home lige nostre seignur le Roi, contre vostre foi, homage, e ligeaunce, fausement e treiturousement / pristes sa ville e son chastel de Gloucestre... (qtd. in Haskins, “Proceedings” 483).

Although Planta’s catalogue, still the official catalogue of used by the British for the Cotton collection, describes this manuscript as a whole simply as “Fragments relating to the civil wars”, even this brief summary of the contents reveals a greater cohesion of purpose than the term “fragments” implies. Gathered as they are, this manuscript – and here I include the additional leaf – tells a story, and rather a personal one. The first three documents seem to be copies of those possessed by John Engayne with relation to a single fraught political event of late 1321, and the chronicle, while it begins with the generalised lurid speculation and frequent inaccuracies that characterise rumour-informed accounts of Edward II’s earlier reign, becomes both more accurate and more emotionally invested as it approaches the final battles of 1321-22, with its sympathies firmly in the baronial camp. The addition of the judgement adds a literal closing page to a grim chapter of recent history, recalling the epitaphical list of the victims of Boroughbridge incorporated by the chronicler into his final pages.


Hardy dates the chronicle at 1327 (395), though the narration ends in 1322. It shows no awareness of the invasion and overthrow to come in 1326-27, unless this is noted among the entries on 88v. The judgement was issued in the aftermath of Boroughbridge in 1322, but Sayles demonstrates that this manuscript is among those re-issued as a general warning in 1325 (61), at which time sufficient copies were made and distributed that “the chronicler would have had little difficulty in securing one for his own use” (57).

Origin and authorship.

An unknown canon from the Augustinian priory of Fineshade in Northamptonshire (Ker, Libraries 87). The letters and petition have been transcribed from another source, by the same hand (A) that appears to have composed the chronicle. Several errors, corrected by the same hand interlinearly or midway through the line, are suggestive of composition rather than copying: for example, on several occasions on ff. 87r and 87v the scribe simply changes his mind on word order. The relation of A to B is unknown, though they seem to be working in close collaboration, but A appears to be the dominant force in writing the chronicle and collecting the supporting documents.

Given the location of Fineshade, therefore, it is curious that the letters and petition focus on events in the north, and the chronicle in addition shows a first-hand knowledge of events in the north beyond what can be accounted for by those documents. Haskins conjectures that the author is a northerner, “probably from somewhere in the county of York, for his account becomes at once more accurate and detailed as the scene shifts, in the spring of 1322, to the region of Boroughbridge and Pontefract” (“Chronicle” 74). Although this precedes Ker’s establishment of its origin, the point remains valid. We must suppose either that the chronicler was a northerner who moved south to Fineshade sometime between 1322 and 1325, or that he had access to the personal memories of someone heavily involved in the final stages of the baronial rebellion.

Both may be true: while the style of the chronicle seems to show a level of personal investment that may be indicative of a local’s attachment, a canon writing at Fineshade had a possible witness in the person of John Engayne, the local baron and a follower of Thomas of Lancaster. Richard Engayne had founded Fineshade in the 1208 (Knowles & Hadcock 137), and the pope’s confirmation in 1223 gave the establishment the right to elect their own prior without consent of the Engaynes (Serjeantson & Adkins 135). Nevertheless, they seem to have retained a close enough relationship with their erstwhile patrons that the priory (or the canon personally) could borrow and transcribe the letters and petition that were presumably among John Engayne’s personal papers.

This being so, there is a possibility that the memory and personal involvement reflected in the chronicle belong to John Engayne, shared in conversations with the canon who was writing what amounts to a history of Engayne’s experiences. Engayne died in 1323 or early 1324 (Dugdale 466), so perhaps it is not too great a leap to speculate that the chronicle may be partly coloured and motivated by reverence for his memory.

If, on the other hand, we hypothesise a smaller role for Engayne, limited to the loan of his papers (possibly by his estate after his death), we return to the supposition that the chronicler himself was a Yorkshireman, who moved to Fineshade after the disturbances of the civil wars. In this scenario, it may have been the move itself – from a place shaken by events that were justifiably felt to be of national importance, to a place less impressed by or less knowledgeable about those events – that prompted the impulse to record, to draw a comfortingly cohesive history from the catastrophe.

Later provenance and position in codex.

There is no evidence of the movements of the manuscript after its composition, and no later additions save the mid-fourteenth-century title on the final leaf. Fineshade was dissolved in 1536 (Knowles & Hadcock 137), and the manuscript may be presumed to have fallen into private hands at this date, if not before. The date and source of Cotton’s acquisition are not known, but it seems to appear on none of his loan lists, so was probably not among his most popular possessions with his fellow antiquarians.

Lacunae and potential.

- Perhaps the most frustrating lacuna is one that could easily be solved by examining the manuscript: the contents of those “various entries of no interest”, which have the potential to add tantalising clues (though possibly no answers) to the question of the date, circumstances and motivation of authorship.

- The field of candidates for authorship is pleasingly narrow, given the probable size of Fineshade at this period. However, without details of the names and biographies of all the canons resident in the 1320s, there is little evidence to pursue beyond that point.

- The exact relationship between Engayne and the chronicler is probably not discoverable. It may be possible, however, to find out a little more about the final two years of Engayne’s life, and whether his experiences in the war hastened his demise a year later.



Dugdale, Sir William. The Baronage of England. London, 1675.

Haskins, G. L. “Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II.” Speculum 14 (1939): 73-81.

----- “Judicial proceedings against a traitor after Boroughbridge, 1322.” Speculum 12 (1937): 509-511.

----- "The Doncaster Petition, 1321." English Historical Review 53 (1938): 478-485.

Ker, Neil R. Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books. London: Royal Historical Society, 1964.

Knowles, David & R. Neville Hadcock. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1953.

Planta, Joseph. Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library deposited in the British Museum. The British Museum: Department of Manuscripts. London: Hansard, 1802.

Sayles, George. "The Formal Judgments on the Traitors of 1322." Speculum 16 (1941): 57-63.

Serjeantson, R. M. & W. R. D. Adkins (eds). “Houses of Austin canons: The Priory of Fineshade or Castle Hymel”. A History of the County of Northampton v. 2. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1906. 135-36.

No comments: